When a new series is kicked off not by a single pilot episode, but by an entire five-episode miniseries. One episode for each weekday. Watched all at once, they become about the length of a short movie.
If the pilot is successful and becomes a regular show, this five-episode pilot often remains the only real arc in the history of a show that otherwise exhibits little or no continuity.
The trope is not quite as common these days, with the decline of both syndication and weekday-afternoon network cartoons (most, but not all, of the latter were the former).
The upshot of this for distributors was that when the shows were released on video the first five could be grouped into a Compilation Movie
. Because of this, the storyline often ends with the arrest or apparent death of the Big Bad
(or maybe an unrelated inaugural villain), with the sixth episode picking up with the introduction of the "real" bad guys, or showing how the villain is Only Mostly Dead
or otherwise coming back into action.
Compare Multi-Part Episode
and From Special To Series
. Often overlaps with Pilot Movie
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Live Action TV
- The 1984 version of The $100,000 Name That Tune with Jim Lange as host. Had several major set differences and a different second round.
- Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined) series began with a pilot miniseries on two consecutive nights.
- The 4400 was originally a 5-episode miniseries, after which three 13-episode seasons were produced.
- Dinotopia began as a 6 hour miniseries (3 episodes of 2 hours each). This later spawned a full series, albeit with a completely different cast.
- Lexx premiered with a miniseries of four TV movies, which became eight episodes in syndication.
- The Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nóg started with nine episodes setting up the story before getting to the Monster of the Week format: two for the knights finding Tir Na Nog and their weapons, one for each of the four knights fighting their Threshold Guardians and winning their armor, two for taming Pyre the Dragon, and one for Rohan discovering he's The Chosen One they'd been waiting for.
- Dallas premiered with a 5-episode pilot season.
- Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation had the five-part arc "East Meets West".
- Superman: The Animated Series began with a three-part episode "The Last Son of Krypton". It introduced (and destroyed) Krypton, brought Superman to Earth, raised him in Smallville, had him move to Metropolis as a full-time superhero and reporter for the Daily Planet, and lastly revealed the nature of Lex Luthor and their long-lasting rivalry. Its sequel series, Justice League, did the exact same thing in "Secret Origins", a three-parter that introduced the characters, their relationships, and the format for the overall show. Unlike other shows, both these series maintained strong continuity throughout their runs, and regularly revisited plot-points from these episodes.
- Batman Beyond also did this, and, like the above shows, sold the three parts of Rebirth as "Batman Beyond: The Movie".
- G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero had two stand-alone mini-series ("The Mass Device" in 1983 and "The Weather Dominator" in 1984) before the first season proper began in 1985 with a third mini-series titled "The Pyramid of Darkness". The 1986 season began with yet another mini-series titled "Arise, Serpentor, Arise!", as did the later DiC series with the 1989 mini-series "Operation Dragonfire".
- The Transformers received a 3-episode pilot before continuing with 13 additional episodes for its first season (including another 3-parter, but later in the season).
- Some series begin with an anomalous 5 or 10-episode arc like this even if the arc isn't intended as a pilot for the show. This was apparently the case with Lion Voltron.
- Exo Squad started off with the "Fall of the Human Empire" five-parter, but didn't progress into episodic format until season two, as the remaining eight episodes of season one were neatly divided into two more large arcs. The second season also had a five-episode finale, aptly titled "The Fall of the Neosapien Empire".
- Disney shows would often debut as a movie-length pilot on the Disney Channel which was then broken up into at most 5 episodes to be rerun with the first season in syndication.
- DuckTales began this way, and later ran three other miniseries following the same formula. With the exception of one (the Firefly Fruit 4-parter), they were also all originally aired as TV movies.
- Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers. Like DuckTales, it also aired in movie form, but oddly enough, the movie version aired later than the serial version.
- TaleSpin had a four-episode pilot that also aired as a movie.
- Darkwing Duck was debuted a little differently: what eventually became the Two Episode Pilot in syndication was actually a hour-length debut special that aired on a Saturday afternoon the weekend prior to the show's syndication run beginning.
- Aladdin: The Series almost had one as well. Aladdin: The Return of Jafar was written to be a three-part opener to the series (and a 90-minute movie special), but after rough animation of the opening scene came back from Australia, Eisner was so impressed with the movement of the horses he decided to release it as the first direct-to-video sequel. Tad Stones never intended for his script to be sold as a "real" movie, and remains embarrassed by "The Return of Jafar" to this day.
- Buzz Lightyear of Star Command has its Pilot Movie, The Adventure Begins, released directly to video. When it got turned into a TV series, it was aired as the three-part pilot (with Patrick Warburton dubbing over Tim Allen).
- Gargoyles, which dealt with the heroes being put to sleep in the past, awakening in the present, and being betrayed by Xanatos in its first five episodes. Unlike many of the other examples, it continued to be arc-based for the first two seasons of its run.
- There was once a TV series based on Atlantis The Lost Empire in production called Team Atlantis, but the plug was pulled on it after work had already been started. The first three episodes were far enough along that they were completed and had some transition scenes added between episodes to make it into a single DTV film, despite the fact that the three episodes don't have much to do with each other. In other words, they somehow managed to invert this trope.
- Jem has its first five episodes created from 15 seven-minute segments that aired in between boy action shows on the Super Saturday/Super Sunday block. Same with Inhumanoids, being made by the same company.
- The Pirates of Dark Water started as a Five-Episode Pilot syndicated miniseries named Dark Water.
- Filmations Ghostbusters.
- The series of My Little Pony kicked off its run with "The End of Flutter Valley" which acted not only as a
Five Ten Episode Pilot, but a sequel to the movie.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic had the..."Friendship is Magic" two-parter, which shows Twilight Sparkle and Spike moving to the main setting, she and the rest of the Mane Five becoming friends, and an introduction of a tradition of having a one-off villain or threat for every season premiere two-parter.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) began this way, and those were the only five episodes not rerun when it was syndicated two seasons later (because they made no sense out of order). This was "remedied" by making a "new" episode for syndication that collected the explanatory flashbacks from the miniseries then summarized the entire miniseries using further flashbacks. And then shortly after the third season finished airing, those first five episodes finally were included in the syndication package.
- These episodes were later edited together as the "feature" entitled "The Epic Begins," and released on home video.
- Market-Based Title: Not only was the series called Teenage Mutant HERO Turtles in the UK, that five episode pilot was also renamed, as How It All Began.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) had a two-parter having the Turtles coming up to the surface for the first time, and encountering recurring enemies, the Kraang.
- ThunderCats launched with a two episode pilot. Following this, the show's second year consisted entirely of a five-parter that was actually subtitled The Movie, and each of its subsequent three seasons began with a five-parter as well. The VHS includes the first four episodes as a movie-length feature.
- She-Ra: Princess of Power was launched with a five-episode pilot; unusually, this actually was released as The Movie in theatres before the television launch of the series, though it was conceived as the standard five-episodes and also aired that way.
- Samurai Jack and Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends both debuted with a movie-length pilot episode, which was then broken into individual episodes for rerun (in both cases, three).
- KaBlam!, being a sketch comedy, did not air as a movie pilot, but did have three individual pilots, though aired out of order. The first one in 1994 was made up of Henry and June, Action League Now!, and old Nicktoons shorts, and it did not air on TV (it was instead shown to Nickelodeon, which gave the creators the green light). The second one, "Your Real Best Friend!" was started in 1995 and finished in early 1996, and included the regular shorts. Unlike the first pilot, this one aired as part of the first season in 1996, but instead aired as the twelfth episode. The third pilot, "It's Flavorific!" was made in 1996 and also aired as part of season one, but as episode five. It contained all the original shorts.
- A season one episode contained The Life with Loopy short, "Goldfish Heaven", which was the pilot for Loopy (notice that Loopy's hair decs are instead part of her hair, and Larry has a different outfit). "Goldfish Heaven", despite having the sequel, "Goldfish Ghost" aired on Nicktoons, this short wasn't re-run on Nicktoons due to quality concerns.
- Challenge of the GoBots started with a five-part origin story.
- The first arc of The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin was aired on five consecutive weekdays. They then got combined into a movie in The Nineties.
- The 1963 animated adaptation of Snuffy Smith and Barney Google began with a 3-part storyline. Part 1 featured Barney Google taking Snuffy and Loweezy to the city in a scheme to make Snuffy a singing star, only to fail in the end. Parts 2 and 3 showed the trio trying to leave the city with no means of transportation (specifically, a wagon and a mule).
- Centurions started with a five-part miniseries, and even ended with one (the latter being one overall story, where as the former contained five standalone and unrelated episodes)
- Ultraman The Adventure Begins (a.k.a. Ultraman USA), an animated pilot co-produced by Tsuburaya and Hanna-Barbera for an American Ultraman series that was never made, was broadcast in syndication as a four-episode mini-series.
- Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers had "Phoenix" and "New Frontier" acting as a two-part pilot.
- The Legend of Korra had "Welcome to Republic City" and "A Leaf on the Wind" acting as a two-part pilot. Arguably, the third episode "The Revelation" counts as a belated third part to the pilot, as it introduces the antagonist and main story arc.
- Rambo: The Force of Freedom began with a five-episode miniseries about the fictional country of Tierra Libre.
- The Magic Adventures Of Mumfie's first season was made up of 13 10-minute episodes that told the story of how Mumfie met his friends. Later, they were combined into a Pilot Movie, which more people remember than the show the episodes came from.
- Rocky and Bullwinkle's first story arc, "Jet Fuel Formula", ran for twenty episodes.